Colin Tizzard pulled off the Hennessy-Welsh National double with Native River a couple of years ago and it wouldn’t be a great shock to see Saturday’s runaway Ladbrokes Trophy winner Sizing Tennessee bid to emulate that impressive feat.
Unlike subsequent Gold Cup hero Native River, who was 8lb well-in owing to a quirk in the system which excluded him from carrying more than the 11-12 he had already been allotted, Sizing Tennessee will have a 4lb penalty to carry.
Even so, he is going to be 7lb ahead of the assessor having been given a spanking new rating of 159 on Tuesday in light of his Newbury heroics.
He’s always been talented, from his time with Willie Mullins, and also Henry De Bromhead, but the big improvement this season looks to be in the jumping department, something which has let him down in the past especially in larger fields.
If the mistakes have completely been ironed out then he must be taken seriously as he bids to make it three from three for the season, but while he’s clearly thriving at the age of 10 – and age is by no means a barrier to success in the Coral Welsh National – it will be his first visit to Chepstow, and his first attempt at this rather unique test.
Having completely dominated the Ladbrokes Trophy with the first, second and fifth home, Colin Tizzard’s other potential runners here have to come onto the radar too and The Dutchman has always shaped like this race would be up his street.
A 13-length defeat of Captain Redbeard in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock earlier this year shows just how much he revels in a true test of stamina, though he’s known to be fragile physically and it’s possibly worth holding fire with him until he’s had a spin or two.
Elegant Escape stayed on dourly for second at Newbury but looks high enough in the weights as a relatively inexperienced six-year-old, while Tizzard’s fourth string Robinsfirth also has very few miles on the clock but also possesses a career-high mark – and no prep run (at the time of writing).
At the top of the market Ballyoptic makes a lot of sense as he has winning course form from his hurdling days and he successfully gave fellow leading contender for this race, Vintage Clouds, 3lb and a near three-length beating in the Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby back in February.
He looks like returning in the Becher but a tough race there might leave him doubtful for Chepstow the day after Boxing Day, and BAIE DES ILES makes more appeal given she’s almost certain to be aimed at the race.
It wasn’t the case last term after the race was rearranged for the New Year, but the grey mare ran really well in it when fifth to Native River (from a 1lb lower mark) a couple of years ago.
She found the ground a bit too lively that day – it was officially described as soft but trainer Ross O’Sullivan didn’t agree, saying it rode what they’d call “yielding” in Ireland – but boxed on bravely in what was clearly a very classy renewal.
She followed that effort with a clear-cut victory over three and a half miles in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown in February 2017, and came close to matching that career-high level of form when third in the same race under a big weight earlier this year.
Sent off 16/1 at Aintree in April, Baie Des Iles was running a big race in the National itself before being hampered at Valentine’s on the second circuit, ultimately finishing 12th behind Tiger Roll – that came from a 1lb higher mark than her current BHA figure.
Baie Des Iles’ only public appearance since then yielded a Grade Two victory at Auteuil in June, where she once again stayed on strongly in testing ground to beat Francois Nicolle’s Bipolaire.
The second has since won twice in his native France, including a Grade One last month, so the form is clearly worth something, even if it’s hard to put it into context in relation to a Welsh National.
As a French-bred seven-year-old, we could just be about to see Baie Des Iles produce her peak season yet, and in the hope that the heavens really open over the next few weeks, she’s worth getting on side at the general 20/1.
At even greater odds, Bishops Road is worth a mention, at the very least. He’s had five runs already this term but didn’t get past the third fence in last weekend’s Rehearsal Chase where he unseated Robbie Power.
It’s worth noting he was a well-supported 6/1 shot there on the back of an encouraging Haydock second and if he didn’t need 21 horses to drop out in order to make the final cut (field size limit of 20), then surely the old boy would be considerably shorter than 33/1.
He’s been 10th and pulled-up in the last two editions of the Welsh National, but they came from marks of 154 and 144, so he’s entitled to fare much better from his reduced rating of 137, though it’s that balancing act of being low enough to compete, and high enough to make the cut, which just about puts me off pulling the trigger when it comes to Kerry Lee’s strong-staying 10-year-old.
Posted at 1100 GMT on 04/12/18.